Gothic mourning ring

Adapting bands to mainstream styles in mourning jewellery is essential to their continued existence. As we’ve discovered with the Catherine Mary Walpole band, which adapted the bold, clean styling of the Neoclassical period and adapted a hairwork memento on top, this ring veers to the other end of the mainstream scale. With the Gothic Revival period taking dominance c.1820, rings such as this would become common and highly produced.

Produced in such numbers that there are degrees of quality in these particular bands. As often with changing styles in jewels, the earlier styles show a high level of quality; their breaking new fashion and worn as such. Bands, being a simple and clear dedication of mourning, were produced in numbers for funerals and given to friends and family, hence as the custom became more of a necessity, base metal pieces were handed out with simplistic construction methods. Indeed, the nature of the band with ‘in memory of’ and a simple inscription avoided too much customisation in construction.

Broken gothic mourning band ring

In this above piece, the shoulders with the floral edging so common in the Gothic Revival period are slid over an inner tube of the ring. Much of this has broken apart over the years, causing heavy loss to the brittle enamel.

Dedication: 2 June 1816 AET 59 / Catherine Mary Walpole mourning ring

Dedication: 2 June 1816 AET 59 / Catherine Mary Walpole

Mourning bands adapted styles with changing fashion, however, there is a uniformity to their prominence c.1680-1900 that is as steadfast as a wedding band.

By its very definition as a band, the ring lends itself to mainstream typefaces in design, the dedication surrounding the band (personalised with a name or standardised with a memento) distils the loved one by their very name to the artistic motif.

More unusual is when the band adapts additional elements, such as this piece, with the hairwork memento placed on top. Its positioning seems clumsy in application, but its nature is essential to amplify the personal nature of the piece.

Also of note is the use of the white enamel (virginity, purity), one could assume for a lady of this age denotes her unmarried status.

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins
9 July 1810 mouring ring 	J Brougham

Dedication: 9 July 1810 / J Brougham

One of the more fascinating aspects of ring design and motifs in the early 19th century is the increased use of gems and stones. What had previously been relegated to fine jewels was becoming ubiquitous and taking over as a symbolic motif in their own right.

Pearl mourning ring

Pearls are the most popular and common to find in rings (many bracelets were strung with pearls, but surviving pieces are harder to find). Jet and turquoise are two of the other most popular materials and are important for their use in mourning custom and symbolism.

1815 mourning ring

Second and third stage jewels took very well to the enhanced use of colour, as reflective surfaces and colour were permissible, so hairwork jewels flanked with stones were not only an essential part of mourning, but a beautiful way to reflect and respect the loved one.

3rd stage mourning ring

Turquoise and Hairwork

These became prevalent from around 1810 and lasted well into c.1850, where larger, bolder styles and black enamel facilitated the changing fashion.

We have taken a look at some of the more unusual design elements at the turn of the 19th century jewellery, each reflecting a society adapting to new methods and tools of construction, access to materials and fashion that began to demand jewellery as a social expectation, rather than social denominator. With this little ring, we can see the use of machine turning to the gold-work in order to create an exact pattern across its entire body.

Inside, however, the hairwork memento still remains. This style did not adapt easily to the application of gems and stones, due to its uniform design, but makes a grand statement in its gold-work.

However, this is a style derived from the mainstream oval/rectangular shape of ring design, as opposed to that style being derived from this. Furthermore, the contour of the band reflects the earlier late 18th century navette/round styles, in that it isn’t a shank meeting the bezel to flatten out underneath, but a clear, circular contour.

Dedication: Jan 14, 1801 / M. Harris (age 28)

Following on from our previous look at the wonderful open-shanks of the early 19th century, we have this ring, with its chalcedony interior and pearl surround.

As mentioned in the previous article, the style of the shank disappeared within a period of twenty years and the bezels became rectangular, but the general style and construction remained the same. Compare that with the ring below:


And you can note the similarities. While this ring is more elaborate in its continuation of pearls along the shoulders, the general conceit of the ring is the same. Pearls, central area for hairwork or gem and dedication underneath.

This style remained popular until the mid-19th century and was used until the end of the 19th century in style, due to its ability to adapt and its sentimental simplicity. There was no need to change a style that was geared towards the personal sentiment of love, as the hairwork was placed in the centre and worn proudly outwards.

Do note that the use of other materials than hair in the dedication area of these pieces can often be later amendments. These rings are highly marketable when there is no clear indication of being for mourning or sentimentality (modern sellers often equate hair with death), so the hair and glass are easy to replace with a stone and when the surrounding pearls/turquoise/jet are still there, they are quite beautiful and command a good price.

Experimentation of styles at the end of the Neoclassical movement created some unusual and quite beautiful forms of mainstream design in jewellery that were discontinued by the coming Gothic Revival and seemingly original for their time. Often, designs used in jewellery have some continuity or pedigree for their form, which makes their adaptation of any mainstream artistic flourishes seem quite understandable.

Yet, the early 19th century was a time of discovery and change. Much of the techniques used in traditional jewellery construction were being overtaken with the growing industrial revolution, production was growing to new levels, access to inexpensive materials transcended status to the point of social necessity. Hence, there was more room for experimentation in jewellery fashion, styles could exist for a short period and quickly disappear.

These particular rings show a motif in the shoulders and shank which have some basis in the navette style, but turn this into a design which is much more organic to the contour of the finger. While the style of the open wire/fretwork is a new one, it still honours the symbolism typical of its time.

With this particular ring, the symbolism in the eternity symbol is used to expand the shoulders, enhancing its simple symbolism and the nature of the design itself. What is more striking is that the ring’s memento area is shaped as a diamond, crossing diagonally around the finger. This also reflects upon the changing nature of the sentimental style of the time as well; what could also be a larger, ivory memento with a portrait or mourning/sentimental depiction is now the simple hairwork of the loved one, outwardly displayed for all to see.

Dedication: 2 December 1800 / J.J

Following on with this style, the wire-work open-shank can be seen in many other pieces of the first-quarter 19th century, with more or less elaboration. Often, the bezel is oval shaped with hairwork inside. This was at a time when the ‘Georgian Eye’ portrait was reaching its crescendo, suggesting that the oval and the eye have an intrinsic link in the design motif. Either way, it was phased out to become a more traditional rectangle, but keeping the same hairwork/materials inside.

Further Reading:
> Gothic Revival in Culture and Jewellery: Part 1, c.1740-c.1850
> Gothic Revival in Culture and Jewellery: Part 2, c.1850-c.190
> Gothic Revival in Culture and Jewellery: Part 3, Breaking Perceptions

19th century memento mori ring

The skull in depiction is a good way of understanding whether or not a mourning jewel is all it claims to be. As a collector, one has to be careful that there is no room for error when buying a piece, this is often overlooked, as many pieces can interest just due to their beauty and not their fact.

With this particular piece, one must make two assumptions; the skull is rendered contemporary for its time, but not as part of its original construction or that it is a much later addition to deceive or promote financial gain.

This is a difficult spot for the collector. Upon first examination, the ring looks remarkably correct in its style. The skull is an obvious anachronism, for it to be part of mainstream fashion when the ring is estimated to be constructed would make it an anomaly. However, the rest of the ring, with its black enamel shoulders and 1st quarter 19th century rectangular hair memento are seemingly correct.

Hence it comes down to the style of the skull being the only things we can take from it. Skull design in mourning jewels can be identified easily enough through matching detail with mainstream art and contemporary pieces. In this case, the skull is simply rendered, which does conform with earlier skulls, but isn’t definitive.

Highly detailed skulls, that you may see on modern rings would automatically default this piece to be a poor addition, but if this is modern or not can’t be discounted.

Perhaps one should question the taste in adding a skull to the remnants of a loved one, when this is the last element of the person that is left, especially in a time when the memento mori motifs were out of fashion.

Regardless, it is the curiosity in jewellery that makes it fun to discover. Each tells a tale, each resonates with personal history.

Further Reading:
> Spotting Forgeries, Fakes and the History of Reproductions

James Chifley Mourning Ring 1802

The ubiquitous early 19th century mourning band was born from a confluence of styles. As seen in the previous Gothic Revival articles, there was a shift back to the ecclesiastical in mainstream art, reacting to the opulence of the neoclassical era with the more primitive Gothic movement and a move away from the personal as the subject of worship.

By the early 19th century, the neoclassical shape of the navette and oval (which previously had mostly housed painted miniatures in the memento area of the ring) had reduced itself to the essence of the shape. Simple, geometric lines reflect a grand and simple statement. In this piece, we have the example of the black enamel being broken by the two white enamel lines. Simple, bold and proud design that, in effect, puts the tombstone around the wearer’s finger.

This was an evolution of a style that had adapted throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. The band itself is a highly malleable and simple design that can adapt very quickly to new art styles that flow in mainstream fashion.

Examples of this can be seen as the contemporary popular style of mourning band adapted the Gothic Revival motifs quite heavily, yet this skews closer to the 1820s in its simplicity.

Country: England
Year: 14 June, 1802
Dedication: James Chafy (Esq) (Age 71)
While we’re working behind the scenes rebuilding Art of Mourning, let’s reflect on this magnificent tale from the crypt:
Rose and Yellow Gold 'Cigar Band' Ring / 1810

Rose and yellow gold with enamel. It appears the hair is laid on card with letters printed on it and research found Alexander Scott was from Lancaster County, PA and held a seat in the Legislature between 1797-1800.

This ‘cigar band’ style of shape is not an American invention; very much the style of US jewellery had a precedence in Europe and just made variations of the theme. Let’s explore the nature of the band itself. One can find its style dating back to the navette shape of the 1780s, where the shank splays out towards the bezel and forms part of the ring itself. The way this conforms to the finger and holds the popular styled shape of the ring is important. The navette style was particularly popular during the 1780-1800 period and the thing to focus on is the shape itself and how the shank holds it.

Rose and Yellow Gold 'Cigar Band' Ring / 1810

As the style over these years began to accommodate the more neo-classical oval shape and materials began to take over the focal point of the navette (being the painted art), the shank accommodated the shape as well. So, this style isn’t related so much to the mourning band of yore, but was more of a way to accommodate shape.

The style as it developed accommodated a cheaper price point. Often one can find these pieces to have a base metal underneath or sometimes have hollow areas underneath the bezel itself. One could surmise that the American adaptation of this style very much satisfied a middle-class market that couldn’t afford the higher price margin for similar shaped bezels with higher detail to the shank.

Rose and Yellow Gold 'Cigar Band' Ring / 1810These are more prolific due to cheaper construction (but not in all cases). That said, the fine pieces with higher gold content and detail are perfect examples of their time, they simply followed a fashion and as with most US forms, found its origins in Europe which subsequently found its origins in earlier pieces that simply evolved to accommodate this fashion.

Look to the more oval, geometric, smaller and quite interesting methods of gold work that were experimented with during the first quarter 19th century (look to the rings first) to see how the style evolved.

Courtesy: Sarah Nehama
Country: United States of America
Year: 1810
Dedication: Alex(R) Scott OB 21 Mar 1810 AE 47

A piece with perfect enamel work is a rare treat to find. Too often, jewellery dealers and quick to repair enamel and clean gold work to a point where it is obvious.

Black enamel mourning ring 19th century 1830s

Even more obvious are repairs to enamel, as anything short of stripping a piece and beginning again will not be perfect and due to the cold process of amending a piece, it will never be perfect. A piece is better if the enamel is in its original condition and untouched.

Black enamel mourning ring 19th century 1830s

It is rare to see a piece that is as close to perfect as the day it was made – a piece as timeless as the literal tombstone used to commemorate the person. This is just one of those pieces – stunning enamel work, a sentiment that is perfect and an overall construction that resonates a special keepsake for the person it was dedicated to.

Note the band is without wear, the remarkable urn on the front and underneath the urn is the hair, or as band would say, the ‘Dear Remains’. This piece works in unison with itself; even the acanthus and floral Rococo Revival influence in the over-arching Gothic Revival style of the gold work that was so common during the 1810s-30s is here in its perfection. Use this piece as the cornerstone of other pieces for its time and reference it while looking through others in Art of Mourning.

Courtesy: Sarah Nehama
Year: 1818
Dedication: (inner) Wm. Armstrong Ob. 31st March 1818 at 55 (outer): Sacred Will I Keep Thy Dear Remains

Further Reading:
> Gothic Revival in Culture and Jewellery: Part 1, c.1740-c.1850
> Gothic Revival in Culture and Jewellery: Part 2, c.1850-c.190
> Gothic Revival in Culture and Jewellery: Part 3, Breaking Perceptions
> Rose and Yellow Gold ‘Cigar Band’ Ring / 1810
> When Mourning Tokens Are Personal: Mourning Bracelet
> Discovering New Styles In An Important Ring from 1836
> Bold, Simple, Clean – Design on a Mid Victorian Brooch

Roger Kelsall Mourning Ring- side view

His son John, I’m guessing, commissioned this mourning ring. His law career would have him fluent in Latin. He respects his father, loves him; he creates a memento to him. He wants to portray him as a great man, to have him remembered as a great man. He wants to elevate his father’s status to what he felt it should have been, and what Roger, as evidenced by his will and letters, was sure it was; enlightened, entitled, righteous, superior in mind, body, and spirit. Roger had felt his status would have been even higher, more noble, if not for the misfortunes that befell him, his King, and his great Country.

And yet, he was a broken man- broken in spirit, physically weakened and broken by the strenuous work that yielded him so little in the end, and broken financially- for a number of reasons, but laying blame almost fully on the Revolution. I quote from his will, which I have a copy of:

“…if my Estate should fall short and prove insufficient for this to me desirable purpose- my creditors as well as my son must impute it to no fault of mine, but to the inevitable misfortunes in which I have been involved in consequence of the late most accurs’d Rebellion. . .”

And now, we come back to the ring. A perfectly lovely ring in its simplicity, well-made, and with an admirable purpose behind it: for those who loved Roger Kelsall to honor and remember him by. It’s also piece of history, that is for sure. Of all the mourning pieces I have in which I’ve been able to find information relating to the person named there, this ring has yielded the most in the way of documents, letters, and related pictures. And yet, I don’t feel connected to Roger Kelsall at all. In fact, the more I find out about him, the less connected I feel, and to be honest, the less I like him. Here is a man who would treat a captive war prisoner badly, who would own hundreds of slaves and profit immensely off of their backbreaking labor, who would keep his own daughter and her mother enslaved, who would, after stating in his will that his creditors are not to blame him should his estate fall short of money, continue on to leave his “thirty-two Negroes” to his son and daughter. Thirty-two Negroes, and their “issue and increase” to his son and (white) daughter, and then to their heirs, “for ever, Amen, Amen”. No, I don’t think Roger Kelsall is an great man amongst men, strong of character and righteous, as the inscription would have us believe. No, I do not feel connected to Roger Kelsall.

Except for one thing.

In the end, he died.

And one day, I will die too.

Memento Mori

Related Articles:
> Roger Kelsall Mourning Ring, Part 1
> Roger Kelsall Mourning Ring, Part 2

John Kelsall, Jr.- Roger's son

Roger Kelsall’s father, John, of Scottish descent, came to the colonies from England and settled in South Carolina. He owned a large plantation near Beaufort. Roger and his younger brother, William, grew to be successful merchants like their father, and owned large plantations with numerous slaves to work them. Cotton is what Roger grew, even developing a special strain, called sea-island cotton which thrived on coastal lands, and commanded much higher prices than the inland variety. But due to conflicts with those fighting for their independence from the Crown, Roger Kelsall, a staunch Loyalist, moved from South Carolina to Georgia, where the English had a stronger hold. He settled in Sunbury around 1770, which quickly became, along with Savannah, a large and prosperous port city. Roger Kelsall, along with a Mr. James Spalding established a number of businesses there and was quite successful, becoming the leading Indian trade company from Georgia to East Florida. Though based in Sunbury, he also took 1,000 acres of land in British East Florida awarded by the Crown to its supporters, and established large plantations there. Despite all of this, he had to be always on alert, watching for the rebels. There were a number of skirmishes through the mid 1770s, with the British prevailing at times and the Americans at others, though the Americans never were able to completely wrest control of Georgia from the British. During this time, Roger served as a military colonel, and during one of the later conflicts, in 1779, Roger and another officer were captured at a plantation, but ultimately released in exchange for an American prisoner. The story goes that Kelsall was being escorted to the woods to be shot, when a local woman put up such a lament that the guard taking Colonel Kelsall agreed to let him go. But not before reminding him that several years earlier, their positions had been reversed, and Kelsall had treated his then-captive cruelly and with disrespect. Kelsall was then forced to admit that he had been less of a gentleman than the other man was.

The Loyalists continued to defend Sunbury from the Americans into the early 1780s, but their forces were spread thin around the area. Finally, after a few more conflicts of the same nature, by 1782, the British and their supporters had completely lost control of Sunbury and evacuated the town. The American Revolution was officially ended by a treaty with Great Britain in 1783. Roger Kelsall was forced to leave. He went to live and work exclusively in East Florida, where he’d still had property. But shortly thereafter, Florida reverted to Spanish rule and Roger once again packed up his remaining slaves and his cotton seed and sailed for the Bahamas. There, as in East Florida, the Crown had purchased most of the land there for those loyal to it to settle.

Roger Kelsall established himself in Nassau, and at an estate called Pinxton on Little Exuma, where he tried to grow cotton, but the soil was poor and rocky. He raked salt from a nearby lake in large enough quantities so that he could export it to Nova Scotia, Canada, and America. But it was not nearly as profitable as cotton had been, and Kelsall began to suffer financially.

Portia Kelsall

He was also alone; his wife had died over a decade ago, and his two children, John and Anne, had been sent to England to be educated. Roger took up with one of his slaves, Nelly, and she bore him a daughter, Portia. Apparently, at least for some time, Portia was accepted as one of the family by her half-siblings and cousins. But her mother was a hard drinker, and resentment of Nelly and her daughter by other family members made things very difficult. Because her mother was a slave, so Portia was also a slave. As the family fortunes dwindled, Portia faced a real threat of being sold. Though most of the family distanced themselves from her and her mother, her half-sister finally purchased her and her mother’s freedom in 1807. Not much is known about her after this time, but a portrait of Portia remains. A picture of it was sent to me by one of Kelsall’s descendants- someone I had contacted though a genealogy forum. Portia, in a simple dress and head wrap, stares out at us with large dark eyes from a shadowy canvas. Just a part of her face and upper body are illuminated. I find the picture strangely haunting.

Along with Portia’s portrait, came pictures of portraits of Roger Kelsall’s son, John, and John’s wife, Lucretia. John had earned his law degree from Cambridge and married the beautiful Lucretia Moultrie, daughter of John Moultrie, former lieutenant governor of East Florida. By contrast, their portraits, perhaps a marriage portrait set, are brighter, with both of them in the elegant clothes of aristocrats, though they each stare out at us as well. John and his sister Anne both settled in the Bahamas after their father’s death. Anne married a doctor and John became Vice-Admiralty Judge and Speaker of the Assembly before dying at an early age in 1803.

Lucretia Moultrie Kelsall

So, into this sparsely-populated, sea-based colonial island, came Roger Kelsall, having run from one place to the next, losing more of his wealth as he went, embittered by his losses, most likely with feelings of superiority toward the old inhabitants who were easy-going, and accustomed to quite a different life than Roger had, and than Roger wanted. Different too were the master-slave relationships here, and it was a place with a large free black population that outnumbered the whites. Here he was, with his driving ambition to remake his fortune and to assume positions of leadership within the community and perhaps within the government. Here he was, alone, with his cotton crops failing, clearing land for more planting that would also fail, and not knowing what else to do. And so he set sail one final time- this time back to England in 1786. I’ve not been able to uncover what he did while he was there. It seems he was exhausted and sick. He wrote his will on 29th of July, 1788. On 5th of December of that year, he died- 51 years after he was born.

It seems that we, as mortal beings, with hopes and dreams like any other human, find a connection with the past and with other human beings, when we learn about their lives, and sometimes their deaths, through researching the name that appears on a piece of mourning jewelry. Maybe it comforts us, knowing that we too must die one day, to have a piece of someone who once was (the hair), and tangible proof that that person who once was, was loved, respected, and remembered (the dedicated jewel); in short, to have those parts of them still remain, both physically and emotionally. This window that opens onto the past through discovering the life behind a name usually elicits for me feelings of a shared humanity, of a certain closeness, simply because that person too was a person who moved in the world, had connections to people and places, and to history, and ultimately was a fragile human being, because they died, and we too share the same fate, no matter who we are. It’s easy then to find some connection and even like that person, as little as we really know them, if only for the shared commonality of being human and being mortal. These are the feelings I’ve had with all of the mourning pieces I’ve researched and connected to a once-living being. That is, until I found this ring.

Here we have a simple, almost austere, mourning ring of the late 18thcentury. Its shape is an elongated oval,

Inscription in Latin

almost a navette. The shank is tapered, and of plain gold. A gold bezel, with just a touch of decoration to the edge, a band of black enamel, and a thin beaded border suffice to frame the simply woven hair memento; hair that’s almost lost its color, having more white than brown in it. This is a perfect example of a basic, typical mourning ring of its day. However, underneath, there is engraved, in elegant script, a dedication entirely in Latin. This is not the shortened Latin using obit (died) and aet (for aetat- at the age of) that we normally find on mourning rings, but a more complete dedication which states: Rogerus Kelsall diem obiit 5 Decembris ’88 circiter 51 annos natus. Translated this means: Roger Kelsall died on (the day of) 5 December ’88 (1788) approximately 51 years after he was born. So, why the more elaborate Latin? I have a few ideas, one based on an educated guess having to do with the person who probably had this ring commissioned (which I’ll get to later), and one simply because it lends the memorial a feeling of high respect; it imparts the sense that this was a great individual,both intellectually, morally, an even physically, by relating it to the Classical age of poets, philosophers, statesmen, great military commanders.

Well then, who was Roger Kelsall? There is quite a lot of information about him out there, much of it I have not yet delved into. In the next post, I will explore more about the man’s history.

Charles I Mourning Ring FrontThis piece dedicated to Charles I is a display of affection that would eventually generate the popularity of the mourning custom. Looking at the piece, Charles’ eyes are turned upwards, which confirms the piece was created after his death. Pieces of this quality are historically important for their relevance to English history and in mourning jewellery. Incredibly rare, other examples can be seen in the V&A Museum. Though there is repair work to the shank, the style of the ring is a good indication of the mid 17th Century.

Rings of the time, particularly after the death of Charles I in 1649, used much of the memento mori symbolism (more on that in another post), but the difference of putting the portrait of Charles I (above), or pieces with the initials CR, shows a distinct change of memento mori as a statement to one of reverence.Charles I Mourning Ring Back Note that Charles’ eyes are facing upwards, which denotes the death of the subject. Earlier portraits (during his lifetime) had the eyes facing forward. These eyes are looking to the heavens. Pieces like this were created during the royalist movement (and beyond) and would eventually spur on the English Restoration leading to the instalment of Charles II.

Charles I Mourning Ring Inside

The distribution of rings had been written into wills of the late 16th and early 17th Centuries. Most famously, William Shakespeare in 1616 declared that in his will that his daughter and wife should have rings stating “Love My Memory” . This custom, though used, was not as popular as the latter half of the 17th Century would prove, though is provides a good basis for what was to come. Posy rings, typically bands with inscriptions, were popular for sentimental purposes during the 17th Century.

Country: England
Year: c. 1649
Dedication: Charles I “prepared be to follow me”
Courtesy: Barbara Robbins

Further Reading
How Society Entered Mourning: c.1680-1700 Memento Mori Mourning Ring
> Spotlight On: Ribbon Slides
> Charles I Enamel Locket
> Charles II Silver Locket
> Queen Mary II Memento Mori Slide
> Revisiting A Charles II Pendant

I’ve written quite a bit about memento mori, it seems to be one of those subjects that is as fascinating as it is polarising. Why is that so? Well, there are so many different connotations involved with the symbolism and that seems to be the crossroads (pardon the veiled pun) of what defines these magical pieces.

If you look to my post from Saturday about the 18th Century Skull on Pendant, then you will see the other end of the scale, which is clearly not a representation of death, but rather the statement of living. However, today we look at the other end of the spectrum with this very rare and very high quality ring from the collection of Marielle Soni is most certainly constructed with the intent of death and mourning. To discern this, firstly let’s look at the time and place of when it was created and why this was so popular.

c.1680-1700 Memento Mori Mourning Ring

This piece was constructed c.1680-1700 and we have many ways to check the validity of this. Firstly, we have the shank itself and note the embellishments. Often, pieces like this have lost their enamel inlay and are quite worn down, but this one is a perfect representation of how it was from when it was constructed. Note the Baroque influence in the design and how this would influence pieces of contemporary and later times. Particularly, the society in which this ring was created was dealing with the new found stability in the government due to the Restoration and from this, industry was finding new ways to create a niche in producing items for a society that was becoming upwardly mobile in ways that had not been seen since the Roman era. Appropriating popular art styles, such as that of the all-pervasive Baroque, and using its influence in products was (and still is) only a logical step in simply selling an item.

c.1680-1700 Memento Mori Mourning Ring

And to follow on from this, we have the skull and crossbones underneath the faceted crystal, an obvious choice for popular symbolism that was now quite heavily associated with death and grief. Gone was the clear establishment of a class that could afford to flaunt its wealth, standard of living and changed were the classes below that could not afford to live in such an almost narcissistic paradigm. Wearing a jewel to show that you will be judged and to live life for all its benefits is quite a grand statement during times with high mortality rates and a more feudal-based system of government, but during the 1670s-80s, there’s a strong shift to higher industry, specialised work and education. Politically, England was recovering from a civil war and the reinstatement of the kingship in Charles II in 1660, the Great Plague of London in 1665 and the Great Fire of London in 1666. There was a high mortality rate and Charles II was only beginning the process of the Restoration. Hence, pieces like this could allow themselves to become more commonplace, the symbols of death could be appropriated for an industry that was reacting to the execution of a king and a subsequent civil war, it could pick up on the nuanced tokens of affection that became popular from this and it could produce a product that was relatively easier to produce and almost the same to sell.

Read the rest of this entry »

Poesy rings make up some of the earliest modern sentimental jewellery pieces, as they were cheaper to produce and the sentiments written inside the bands are personal in nature.

With the slowly increasing social movement of the 17th century, methods of outwardly displaying wealth as well as mementoes of loved ones, be they gifts or personal, were needed.

Not attached to any one particular style, the most common theme of poesy rings is the inscription.

This ring is a superb example of a poesy ring from the 17th Century. Look for an in-depth discussion on poesys in the future!

Courtesy: Barbara Robbins
Country: England
Year: c. 1650
Dedication: Accept my good will

Further Reading
> The Forget-Me-Not in Jewellery Symbolism
> The Daisy in Jewellery Symbolism
> The Rose in Jewellery Symbolism

The aesthetic movement helped carry through a consistency of latter 19th century jewellery, this and high levels of production. It is common to find motifs and designs become equal, with interchangeable materials of use for the jewel. Rings, in particular, are quite commonly created in both silver and gold, with almost identical moulds producing the piece. Gems and other materials used are also at the mercy of customisation, but the outcomes, regardless of the use of a garnet, aquamarine, or any colour of stone produces a ring that may look very different, but upon inspection, the designs are nearly identical.

19th century garnet ring

This piece is c.1890, but there is a good twenty years of production for this style; it lasted well into the early 20th century and its embellishments of the Rococo Revival period, with the acanthus and the forget-me-not are safe, innocuous and sentimental symbols in a time of highly produced, wearable jewellery and a more global outlook to virtue and values.

19th century garnet ring

This particular style was adapted in the Art Nouveau period to reflect the more organic and natural approach to jewellery design (and design in general), you can often find these pieces in silver, rather than gold, however.

19th century garnet ring

Expect to find similar pieces at your local estate jeweller or antique shop, they’re still very wearable and will always remain beautiful!

That magnificent collector Barbara Robbins is back with a lovely look at a new acquisition;

William 1702 Crystal Ring

“This is a wonderful, circa 1702 ring that I just bought and will stay in my collection. It was the hardest thing to photograph I have ever attempted. I guess that due to the heavily faceted crystal. I seriously took about 50 or 60 photos of this ring, and this is the best I could do. I’m including two of the front of the ring. One shows the scribe better, but it has a glare from the crystal.”

William 1702 Crystal Ring
“This wonderful ring commemorates the death of William III, who reigned from 1689 to 1702. He ruled with his wife, Mary, until her death, and their years together are often referred to those of “William and Mary.”

William 1702 Crystal Ring

The ring contains hair, and would that it would be William’s, but of course it could be that of a faithful supporter. The ring was most likely commissioned to commemorate William’s death in 1702, and on top of the hair, is a crown and William’s scribe.  The ring has the closed back, enameling on the shoulders and on the sides of the bezel. I had to have this one, because I have the slide with Mary’s hair.  Of course  I needed William to complete the picture.””

William 1702 Crystal Ring

For those of you who are new here, or who are not familiar with the wonderfully informative article that Hayden wrote about a mourning ring of mine, a ring I call the Ship Ring, please see the post from April 15, 2010. Here you will find the background for this post, in which thanks to a friend’s research, the identity behind the ring is brought to light. Once having learned to whom the ring is dedicated, the careful analysis presented by Hayden from last year’s post, and my own research into the personal history behind this ring can be seen as two separate routes of research that work in tandem with each other, helping us understand this ring in its entirety.

To summarize, Hayden’s analysis of this magnificent ring took into account a number of different aspects of the piece, that we shall see, make complete sense in light of the discovery of the true identity of the person mourned. In a nutshell, I purchased this ring online from an Englishwoman who really knew nothing about it other than it had been in her late husband’s family for over 50 years. The inside of the ring shank has the usual memorial dedication, with the date of death, and the age; however, in this case, rather than a full name, there are only initials (E. W.) with a crown, or coronet, in front of them. What intrigued me quite a lot when I first examined this ring, was a much larger coronet engraved on the underside of the bezel, along with a prominent initial “W” and then the two initials “A+T”. Here were pieces of a puzzle left to me to solve regarding the identity of the deceased: two coronets (inner shank, and under the bezel), initials E. W. on the inner shank along with the date of death (Dec. 1, 1841) and the age (83), plus two joined initials not matching the others (A+T). Where to begin?

Well, I decided to start with the coronet. I really felt that this crown was too large of a design to be a maker’s mark; it must signify something else, and something relating to the “W” below it. Not being familiar with English royalty and peerage, I had to do a bit of online research. I learned that in the peerages of the United Kingdom, the design of a coronet shows the rank of its owner. This is through the motifs of “strawberry leaves” and “pearls”, or “silver balls”, in two dimensional representations. The coronet under the bezel of this ring corresponds exactly to that of an earl. Because the coronet is featured so prominently on top of the initials W and A+T, and again on the inner shank before the letters E. W., I felt quite certain that this person was an earl; namely, the Earl of W___. But who could that be? Since I had the date of death, and the age of the person, I thought I might be able to discover who this was by utilizing these clues. Referring back to the post from April 15th of last year, you can read about how I used these to come to a possible identity, which, as it now turns out, is not correct. However, going with the assumption that this was an earl, I looked at all the possible earls of Ws, whose date of death and age matched the information on my ring. And I did come quite close; John Fane, the 10th Earl of Westmoreland. He had died on Dec. 15, 1841 at the age of 82. Pretty close, but not exact. Now, if you look at the photo of the inner shank of my ring, you’ll see that there was a piece of gold inserted on top of the original shank, and this piece had been engraved with “obit Dec. 15” .Would it be possible, I asked myself, if the ring had been mistakenly engraved- that is, the “5” from Dec. 15th left out, giving the date of death on the ring as Dec. 1? I thought it was possible, yes, but then we come to the mystery of the two initials, A+T. In my research of John Fane, I could find nothing that could relate to those two initials. So, for the time, I left that piece of information aside, and I moved to looking more carefully at the front of the ring. Here we have a ship, beautifully painted in sepia, moving away across the waves of the ocean. Surrounding the ship is a garter with a buckle made of seed pearls and hair. What of this ship? Did it refer to a naval career or one as a shipping merchant? No, I could not find anything like that for John Fane. However, as Hayden pointed out, the ship symbolizes the passage of the soul into the afterlife, and that certainly made sense here, for a mourning ring. And the garter? Well, I did find out that John Fane was made Knight of the Garter in 1793. Was all of this leading me towards the Earl of Westmoreland as the person commemorated here? I still could not be sure, but the use of the earl’s coronet, and the date of death and age on the ring so close but for one digit- these things made me feel I was on the right path. But now, what of some of the aspects of this ring that Hayden asked us to look at and analyzed? In reading his article, these could not be ignored and I felt that they played an important role in making sense of this ring. One of the main things to look at in dating rings is the shank. In the article we’re shown a comparison between this ring and one from 1786, with special attention paid to the sides of the shank and the way they connect to the front of the ring.

The similarity is quite apparent, and we see how the detailing of the shank in the ship ring shows the prototype for the style we see in the 1786 ring. This gives rise to the question of whether the ring was repurposed at the later date of 1841 to mourn a family member, but had been utilized previously in the late 18th century as a sentimental token. As we’ll see in the discovery of the true identity of the deceased, this is quite likely and makes perfect sense.

So finally- who is the ring for?  Thanks to a friend who is an experienced genealogical researcher, who took the information about this ring that I provided (the information contained in the post from last April plus my photos) and researched it based on the death date, I have learned that this ring mourns the death of Elizabeth, Dowager Countess of Winterton. Who is she, and how did my friend connect the information with her? Well, he tells me that he looked to see who of import might have died on the date given in the ring, and then looked to see if the age and rank matched. A dowager Countess is the wife of a late earl; in this case, the First Earl of Winterton, Edward Turnour. And what was Elizabeth’s maiden name? Armstrong. And there we have our earl’s coronet, the W, for Winterton, A+T for Armstrong + Turnour, and the date of Countess Elizabeth’s death in London at the age of 83 on Dec. 1, 1841. And now, knowing all of this, the items that were previously analyzed by Hayden fall neatly into place. We have the ring shank, pointing to a date in the late 18th century; that is, earlier than the engraved date of 1841. Certainly the ring could have been a sentimental or marriage token at the time of the marriage of Miss Elizabeth Armstrong to the Earl of Winterton, which was in 1778. At that time, to commemorate the union, the coronet and initials on the underside of the bezel could have been engraved on the ring. And symbolizing never ending love, we have the garter, and buckle motif. That’s certainly fitting for a marriage. At some point, the ring was enlarged- we can see the solder lines of where a small piece of gold was added to the back of the shank to make it bigger. At this point, or perhaps later, for a reason I’m not sure of, a larger piece of gold was added to the inside of the shank. And then, when the Dowager Countess died, the usual mourning dedication, with the addition of the appropriate coronet before her initials was engraved to the inside of the shank. And here we have the solution to the mystery, and a confirmation of both the ring being tied to an Earl of W____, and to one with a history prior to its engraved date, with a purpose more sentimental than mourning when it was first commissioned and presented.

And so we see how diligent and patient research, backed up by facts, as well as an educated stylistic analysis, are both equally important in understanding the personal history behind a piece of antique jewelry and in fully grasping the purpose of the item and its relation to its time and its culture.

*For those who are interested, or may need help with similar research, my friend directed me to this website:  -this is a resource for British Peerage and Baronetage. Here is the page he found for the First Earl of Winterton, Edward Turnour. Reading down, you’ll see the entry for Elizabeth Armstrong, his second wife:

The Victorian appropriation of the Rococo style is something that overtook the mainstream and led to many good pieces of art and jewellery. Influenced by Romanticism, you can see the impact on this particular ring:

Rococo Revival Ring

Rococo Revival Ring

Rococo Revival Ring

You’ve discovered a treasure: unique, beautiful, interesting, an asset to your collection and within your fiscal reach! Buy, buy, buy! Well, that is all very well and good isn’t it? But what of that dilemma when there is a lovely group of options on the market – all comparable, all lovely – of which you can only afford one? Hmmm? That’s where it gets a bit tricky.

Have you read this description: ‘…lustrous pearls surrounding a glazed locket compartment containing woven hair…’. I imagine that you have if are interested in mourning rings. It is a description of the classic Georgian pearl mourning ring, you know the ones, rectangular or possibly square thick glass under which there is woven hair of the deceased surrounded by pearls of varying quality, set in gold, ribbed band, split shoulders, and so on. I knew I wanted one. I felt it was important to have an example of this type of work. However, they were so popular at the time (early 19th C) that many have survived and there are a number of them available on the market. So which one should I get?

Classic Georgian Mourning Ring

I decided on this one and it was really a process of which one ticked the most boxes for my criteria. There you have it – know your criteria. What is it that you really value in the piece, in your collection, and why?

I respond much more strongly to pieces that have inscriptions. It is possibly my strongest criterion (after sheer beauty of course!).  This piece has two dedications making it even more delectable to me. I am also attracted to pieces that are dedicated to the young and/or unmarried. This ring is dedicated to a Miss Tylor 1797 and Miss Jane Tylor 1804. The condition of the ring is very good, most particularly the pearls are very white and lustrous and appear to be untouched. The ring is sound, solid and weighty. The split shoulders and ribbed band is a typical Regency era design. The mille-grain detailing on the bezel represents fine craftsmanship. The woven hair is blonde (rarer), the glazing thick and clean.

Detail of the split shoulders

Do you hear my felt-tip ticking the boxes?

Accurate dating is also a detail that appeals to me in a piece of jewellery because I enjoy researching the history of its time and, if I am very lucky, the subject or owner. This ring comes in its original box. Rundell & Bridge were very popular fine jewelers in the Regency period. Interestingly, Rundell & Bridge were appointed official Royal Jewellers in 1797, the same year Miss Tylor passed away. In the ring box there is printed on the interior silk a royal crown atop the jeweller’s logo. One can be confident therefore that this ring was made in 1797 or later. Possibly due to the placement of the inscriptions we can further assume that it was purchased in 1805 or shortly after, to fit both inscriptions so comfortably. I have a number of clues here so there is opportunity for me in the future to more thoroughly research the Miss Tylors.

The inside of the box lid also provides me with the jeweller's address

Decision making 101? Know thyself…okay, that might prove too difficult, but at least know your collection criteria!

P.S. I am happy with my choice.

– Marielle Soni

Louis XVI Royalist Supporter French Ring
Excuse me while I marvel at this gem – please tell the crowd all about it, Barbara:

“this is Royalist Supporter jewelry, late 18th century, commemorating the deaths of Marie Antoinette, her husband Louis XVI and their son, the Dauphin. This high carat gold ring is set with a sulphide cameo encrustation portrait of the ill-fated Royal family. The portrait is set to a gold frame with the black enamel motto “Iis sont immortels (they are immortal), under crystal.  It is in perfect condition, but I couldn’t get the photo without a very small glare.”

Louis XVI Royalist Supporter French RingLouis XVI Royalist Supporter French Ring

Watering Can Ring French Sepia c.1780s

From the collection of the always wonderful Barbara Robbins comes this very interesting ring! Take it away, Barbara:

“This one is very interesting, and I think it is probably sentimental rather than mourning.  It shows a lady with a watering can.  The French words are “Je prendre soin de sa culture, ” which translated means “I take cre of your culture (nourishment), etc.  The words are pretty close to the top which makes me think that maybe this is not the original shank and case, though it is an old one and it fits quite well.  There could be another explanation for the words being so close to the top.  I don’t know.”

Watering Can Ring French Sepia c.1780s

Watering Can Ring French Sepia c.1780s

Urn Willow Onyx Mourning Ring

If you know me well enough, you may think this is hypocritical, but sometimes I often buy jewellery to wear. Yes, as a person who is based in conservation and education, I love my urn/mourning motifs and this one grabbed me. I was in London looking down upon a cabinet of jewellery and it just spoke to my heart. As you can see, there are no dedications on it, which make it safe for me to wear and not feel that I’m harming the memory of a person.

Urn Willow Onyx Mourning Ring

Urn Willow Onyx Mourning RingWant to read a bit more on the use of the willow in jewellery symbolism? Then why not click over here for more!

Chas Fraser / OB: 16 April 1746 / Born: May 23/ 1725 Mourning RingAh, another delight torn from the clutches of London! This one came from a collection of an antiques dealer in Portobello Road and when I saw the eternity twist in the domed crystal with its completely free-floating transparency, I had to have it. Excuse the pictures, photography isn’t my forte.

Dedication: Chas Fraser / OB: 16 April 1746 / Born: May 23/ 1725

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Gibbs / 8 Feb, 1820, Age 69 Mourning Ring Pair Original BoxHere’s a wonderful pair of rings in their original box that I liberated from Alfies Antique Market (13-25 Church Street, Marylebone, London NW8 8DT). I highly suggest you go if you’re ever in the area, I’m always surprised by how wonderful it is every time I go.

As for the rings, they’re stunning and appear to have been kept in a drawer for the last 200 years. Enjoy the show!

Dedication: Gibbs / 8 Feb, 1820, Age 69

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After travelling the earth for several weeks, I’m back and ready to look exploring new areas of jewellery! But before all that, I’ll pop a series of images on the blog of what I’ve taken back with me. All in all, everything came together very well – it was very interesting to see the different perceptions of mourning jewellery around the world. In some cultures, it’s the jewellery found on the peripherals of good taste or desirability, in others, it’s coveted and respected with the reverence it deserves.

And before I forget, a quick thank you to everyone whom I met overseas that visit the site! Your enthusiasm and passion for the subject is what keeps this collecting/educational mania alive.

Without further ado, here’s a blue enamel mourning ring from 1803 encrusted with some rather nice diamonds.

Diamond Urn Mourning Ring Blue Enamel 1803 / Bought in LondonDiamond Urn Mourning Ring Blue Enamel 1803 / Bought in London

Amethyst Ring Mary Wooley OB: 8 April 1765 AE: 64

My dear jewellery historians, what is it that strikes you about this ring on first appearance? Look at it carefully and we’ll talk more about it after the jump…

Had a good look? Yes, it’s a beautiful thing and look at those colours…

Read the rest of this entry »

When it comes to hinges in rings, there are many variations of the kind and it’s only when a style is at its absolute peak does the commonality and perfection of the form match the jewel itself.

And what do I mean by this, I hear you ask? Indeed, there have been unusual forms of hinges in rings dating back to pre-history, but for sentimental and memorial jewels of the late 19th century, you will find the hinged hairwork band to be one of the more common popular jewels produced. This leads into a lot of what was mass produced in the late 19th century in terms of jewellery design.

Jewellery design was at a point where it transcended socio-economic boundaries and found itself trapped within the necessary lexicon of moral standard. This is particularly true of mourning jewels, which had their set factors in time of the dictated mourning periods (1st, 2nd and 3rd) in Protestant-based Western culture, rather than sentimental jewels which were worn with reasons of personal beauty and random affection.

It was also a time where other styles of art, from the popular Arts and Crafts movement and subsequent Art Nouveau movement began to permeate the mainstream society and influence the style of jewellery design that was quite locked into the static social standard that had existed from the 1860s to 1890s. While the society was rebelling against these pre-established concepts, we have to look at what was also influencing it.

Mass production becomes a major factor here; a society locked within its very formal ways was being facilitated by high levels of production and low cost for items that were necessary within society. Look to establishments such as Jay’s Mourning Warehouse; places which tailored the mourning experience (and travelled!) to the individual and basically created a fashionable culture around this social necessity.

Mother Hairwork Hinged Ring

How does this impact this ring? Indeed, this ring comes from a time when this formalisation was becoming set, yet it has a wonderfully individual slant on the style. By the 1870s, society from the UK to America was finding these measures of standardisation in production, with the catalogue being the primary source of purchase and rings in particular (with fob chains, brooches and pins) being the more obvious items of fashion for day to day wear that denoted affection. Note how this ring is detailed within the hinge itself and the curvature to the band. It becomes almost an adaption of the style, which is clearly visible in the ring itself. Hair bands of the 1860s and 70s set the precedent for the mass production of the 90s, with a noticeably heavier weight in gold, thinner styles and greater differentiation with the shield or dedications on the front. In this, we have the formal Empire flourishes to the surrounding shield with ‘mother’ written very elegantly inside. The interior is dedicated ‘T.H. Morris’ and the woven hair is still in excellent condition.

Mother Hairwork Hinged Ring

One can draw inferences about how and why this ring was worn, certainly the dedication speaks for itself, however a good way to begin this form of esoteric analysis is to look at the condition of the piece and then draw some conclusions about its interactivity with day to day life.

I’ll leave that there, I won’t want to muddy the waters of fact with any sort of blind romanticism!

Enjoy the ring, because I know I will – I have a special affection for hinged bands.

Courtesy: Sarah Nehama
Dedication: Mother / T.H. Morris

Envelope Ring 19th Century

Despite the introduction of lower grade alloys in jewellery post Hallmarking Act of 1854, no construction or detail was lost in translation, regardless of the materials used. For today’s wonderful presentation, we have a stunning little envelope ring that shows just how intricate construction can be.

I’ve shown various swivel rings and rings with opening hair compartments (such as this marvellous example from 1881), but this piece shows the double fold and catch set in the envelope/pouch design.

Envelope Ring 19th CenturyMid to late 19th century fashion adopted many classical art forms and created various revivals in art, such as Rococo, Etruscan, Greek, Gothic and Roman, yet one thing remains underlying these various forms of art and that is the heavy symbolism used in motifs. This, along with the envelope itself, shows the detailed vine pattern rising across the shank and over the envelope folds. The envelope itself signifies the shortness of emotional distance between the wearer and the person who has given it, regardless of the physical distance. Hence, the motif can work as both sentimental or memorial love token.

Also note the hair being inside a compartment, a popular style from the late 1860s onwards, as opposed to larger earlier styles.

Courtesy: Sarah Nehama
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